In a study published March 9 in Nature Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi presents a new approach to combine solar energy conversion and biomass conversion, two important research areas for renewable energy.
For decades, scientists have been working to harness the energy from sunlight to drive chemical reactions to form fuels such as hydrogen, which provide a way to store solar energy for future use. Toward this end, many researchers have been working to develop functional, efficient and economical methods to split water into hydrogen, a clean fuel, and oxygen using photoelectrochemical solar cells (PECs). Although splitting water using an electrochemical cell requires an electrical energy input, a PEC can harness solar energy to drive the water-splitting reaction. A PEC requires a significantly reduced electrical energy input or no electrical energy at all.
In a typical hydrogen-producing PEC, water reduction at the cathode (producing hydrogen) is accompanied by water oxidation at the anode (producing oxygen). Although the purpose of the cell is not the production of oxygen, the anode reaction is necessary to complete the circuit.
Unfortunately, the rate of the water oxidation reaction is very slow, which limits the rate of the overall reaction and the efficiency of the solar-to-hydrogen conversion. Therefore, researchers are currently working to develop more efficient catalysts to facilitate the anode reaction.
Choi, along with postdoctoral researcher Hyun Gil Cha, chose to take a completely new approach to solve this problem. They developed a novel PEC setup with a new anode reaction. This anode reaction requires less energy and is faster than water oxidation while producing an industrially important chemical product. The anode reaction they employed in their study is the oxidation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). HMF is a key intermediate in biomass conversion that can be derived from cellulose - a type of cheap and abundant plant matter. FDCA is an important molecule for the production of polymers.

Solar-Power Plane Airborne on Historic Round-the-World Trip

With its wings stretched wide to catch the sun's energy, a Swiss-made solar-powered aircraft took off from Abu Dhabi just after daybreak Monday in a historic first attempt to fly around the world without a drop of fossil fuel.

Solar Impulse founder André Borschberg was at the controls of the single-seat aircraft when it lumbered into the air at the Al Bateen Executive Airport. Borschberg will trade off piloting with Solar Impulse co-founder Bertrand Piccard during layovers on a 35,000-kilometer (21,700-mile) journey.

Some legs of the trip, such as over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, will mean five days and five nights of flying solo. Both pilots have been training hard for this journey, which will span 25 flight days over five months before this Spruce Goose of renewable energy returns to Abu Dhabi in late July or August.

"It is also exciting because you know, you simulate, you calculate, you imagine, but there is nothing like testing and doing it in real," Borschberg said just hours before takeoff. "I am sure we are all confident and hopefully we will be able to see each other here in five months."

The Solar Impulse 2 aircraft, a larger version of a single-seat prototype that first flew five years ago, has a wingspan of 72 meters (236 feet), larger than that of the Boeing 747. Built into the wings are 17,248 ultra-efficient solar cells that transfer solar energy to four electrical motors that power the plane's propellers. The solar cells also recharge four lithium polymer batteries.

Nexus eWater Completes $2.1 Million Series A Funding Round

Nexus eWater has developed the world's first practical water and energy recycler for homes. The estimated annual US market for this new product suite is projected at $15 billion per year. The patented product collects a home’s grey water (the drain water from showers and laundry), then cleans it to the highest standard for at-home recycling for lawn watering and other approved uses. Additionally, the system captures and re-uses the heat found in the grey water for further recycling. The system is available for both new homes and for retrofits.
The international investor team includes Canberra-based venture fund ANU Connect Ventures (ANUCV), the Sydney Angels and the Sydney SideCar Fund. The round was led by Thomas Reeves Hitchner, the retired general partner of Baltimore-based venture fund, QuestMark Partners. Proceeds from this funding cycle will complete the initial product roll-out of Nexus’ on-site water and energy recycling products for the California and US market.
The Nexus system is affordable, robust and efficient. It is a sustainability “triple play.” For a house with a family of four, the system provides these three benefits:
  • Reduces in-home water usage by 40%, (up to 200 gallons per day) by recycling 67% of the water used in a house;
  • Reduces wastewater by 70%, (up to 200 gallons per day); and
  • Reduces home electric energy usage by 10-20%.
The energy recycler provides the equivalent power of a 1.5 kW solar array, but at a fraction of the cost. In large, older homes, this amount could be tripled. Energy recycling is accomplished by using a patented heat pump system, which harvests the energy from the warm grey water and then uses that energy to heat fresh, new water for the home. By recycling this energy, the home’s water can be heated using 75% less energy than any conventional tank or tankless water heater.

Japan's Growth in Solar Power Falters as Utilities Balk

By JONATHAN SOBLE for NY Times:  Rice fields, golf courses and even a disused airport runway. All over the southern Japanese region of Kyushu, unexpected places gleam with electricity-producing solar panels.
Solar use in Japan has exploded over the last two years as part of an ambitious national effort to promote renewable energy. But the technology’s future role is now in doubt.
Utilities say their infrastructure cannot handle the swelling army of solar entrepreneurs intent on selling their power. And their willingness to invest more money depends heavily on whether the government remains committed to clean energy.
“It’s upsetting,” said Junji Akagi, a real estate developer on Ukushima, a tiny island near Nagasaki. Mr. Akagi said he hoped to turn a quarter of the island’s 10-square-mile area into a “mega-solar” generating station, and has already lined up investors and secured the necessary land.
Then last September, Kyushu Electric Power Company, the region’s dominant utility, abruptly announced that it would stop contracting to buy electricity from new solar installations. Other power companies elsewhere in Japan soon followed suit.

Floating Solar Panel Project Due in 2016 from California Power Company

From  Sonoma County, Calif.'s new public electricity supplier is turning to the sun and water — the airspace over treated sewage ponds, specifically — to generate power for local homes and businesses.
Under a deal signed Thursday with a San Francisco-based renewable energy developer, officials with Sonoma Clean Power, now the default electricity provider in Sonoma County, unveiled a plan to install a 12.5-megawatt solar farm on floating docks atop holding ponds operated by the county Water Agency.
When completed in 2016, the project, which will provide enough electricity to power 3,000 homes, will be the largest solar installation in the county.
It also will help fulfill one of Sonoma Clean Power’s central goals — to develop local sources of renewable energy for its expanding customer base, now taking in more than 160,000 residential and commercial accounts across five cities in the county.


Google Is Making Its Biggest Ever Bet on Renewable Energy

Google Inc. is making its largest bet yet on renewable energy, a $300 million investment to support at least 25,000 SolarCity Corp. rooftop power plants.
Google is contributing to a SolarCity fund valued at $750 million, the largest ever created for residential solar, the San Mateo, California-based solar panel installer said Thursday in a statement.
Google has now committed more than $1.8 billion to renewable energy projects, including wind and solar farms on three continents. This deal, which may have a return as high as 8 percent, is a sign that technology companies can take advantage of investment formats once reserved only for banks.
“Hopefully this will lead other corporations to invest in renewable energy,” SolarCity Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said in a phone interview.
The deal reflects the success of renewable energy companies in tapping into a broader pool of investors with financial products that emerged in the past three years, either paying dividends or sheltering cash. Those helped boost investment in clean energy 16 percent to a record $310 billion last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Eiffel Tower now generates its own power with new wind turbines

France's most recognisable landmark, the iron Eiffel Tower erected in 1889, has seen its iconic frame festooned with many different decorations and objects over the years for various celebrations. Its latest addition is a little more subtle -- and maybe a little more in keeping with the tower's original purpose as a monument to human ingenuity and artistry.
As part of a major renovation and upgrade to the tower's first floor, the Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel will be adding a variety of sustainability features -- the first of which is a pair of VisionAIR5 wind turbines designed by renewable energy specialist Urban Green Energy.
The two vertical-axis turbines have been installed on the tower's second level, about 122 metres (400ft) from the ground -- a position that maximises wind capture. The turbines have been specially painted so as to blend in with the tower, and produce virtually no sound. They can also capture wind from any direction, producing, between them, a total of 10,000kWh per year -- enough to power the tower's first floor.


San Mateo County looks to ditch PG&E, jump into renewable energy movement

Aaron Kinney for Mercury News:  In the latest sign that a Bay Area renewable energy trend is picking up steam, San Mateo County is taking a close look at buying its own power on the open market, instead of relying on PG&E, in a bid to lower its greenhouse gas emissions.

The county is exploring whether to establish a community choice aggregation program, which allows local governments to create their own energy portfolios that rely more on alternative sources like wind and solar and less on fossil fuels. On Tuesday, the board of supervisors will vote on allocating $300,000 toward a technical study of the proposal.

Marin County pioneered the community choice aggregation model in California. Since launching in 2010, Marin Clean Energy has grown to serve roughly 125,000 customers. The nonprofit claims it delivers more than twice as much renewable energy as PG&E at a slightly reduced cost to consumers.

Sonoma County followed suit last year with Sonoma Clean Power, and numerous jurisdictions are now looking into the model, including Alameda County and the South Bay cities of Cupertino, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.

Can Wind Energy Be Counted On To Help Meet Obama's Carbon Goals?

Ken Silverstein for Forbes:  The wind energy sector is perpetually facing headwinds. But despite the challenges, those producers say that they are well prepared to help the country meet carbon reduction goals under the White House’s Clean Power Plan.
That plan, which was unveiled last summer and which will be finalized this June, will require a reduction in heat-trapping emissions of 30 percent by 2030. Such a goal is attainable given the shift from the heavily pollutive coal to natural gas-fired electric generation, which releases about half the carbon dioxide as coal. Nevertheless, the wind sector says that it can up the ante even more — if the current transmission system could be expanded to accommodate more electrons.
In an conference call, the American Wind Energy Association said that wind power has already exceeded the 2020 threshold that the Obama administration has outlined in its Clean Power Plan — and that it could blow past its 2030 goals, if the grid were expanded to the remote locations where many wind farms are getting built.
Moreover, “Some people think we need a battery attached to the wind,” says Michael Goggin, the association’s senior director of research. “All resources are backed up by all other resources on the power system. Changes in wind output are nothing new to grid operators.

UK approves world's biggest offshore wind farm

From Pilita Clark, Environment Correspondent for the Financial Times:  The world’s biggest offshore wind scheme has been given the go-ahead off the coast of Yorkshire, in a move the government said was likely to create hundreds of jobs.
The Dogger Bank Creyke Beck project is expected to be one of the UK’s biggest power stations, second only to the Drax coal-fired plant in North Yorkshire and capable of supplying about 2.5 per cent of the country’s electricity.
The scheme’s developers have yet to take a final investment decision and the project will almost certainly have to secure backing under the government’s renewable energy subsidy system.
But the government’s planning consent for such a large development was welcomed by the industry.
“This is an awesome project,” said Nick Medic, director of offshore renewables at RenewableUK, the wind industry trade body. “It will surely be considered as one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever undertaken by the wind industry.”
If built, the scheme will dwarf the London Array in the outer Thames Estuary, currently the largest operating offshore wind farm, with 175 turbines.

Europe Wind Power Booms on German Demand as 2015 Set for Record

Developers installed 11.8 gigawatts of wind turbines in Europe last year, accounting for almost half the power-generation capacity added, as the region continues to shift away from fossil fuels, according to the European Wind Energy Association.
Germany was the top wind market with about 45 percent of the total, the Brussels-based trade group said Tuesday in a statement. It was followed by the U.K., Sweden and France, with the four countries accounting for more than three-quarters of the industry.
Wind power in southern Europe will “continue to struggle in the face of erratic and harsh changes in the policy arena,” Thomas Becker, EWEA’s chief executive officer, said by e-mail. “We expect this concentration to continue into 2015.”
Wind power made up 43.7 percent of all new capacity in Europe last year. Turbine installations this year may reach a record 15.6 gigawatts as developers seek to qualify for government incentives, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. A gigawatt of capacaity is about as much as one nuclear reactor.

What Apple's $848 Million Solar Energy Deal Really Means

From Todd Woody for TakePart:  Apple will spend $848 million over 25 years to purchase carbon-free electricity from developer First Solar in the largest commercial solar deal to date. It was widely reported that the energy would power the company’s California operations, including its new spaceship-like Silicon Valley headquarters.
Not quite.
The electricity generated by the project is the equivalent of the energy consumed by Apple’s operations. But that electricity will flow into the power grid and out to millions of Californians’ homes, not directly to the company’s offices, stores, and data centers.
But the solar electricity generated by the power plant will offset any fossil-fuel use by the company—and more important, Apple’s investment most likely guaranteed that the California Flats Solar Project is being built. Such deals by big, private companies have become crucial for the expansion of renewable energy to fight climate change at a time when utilities’ interest has lagged. Cheap natural gas has made solar and wind enegy less attractive to power providers in recent years.
Google, for instance, has poured more than $1.5 billion into solar and wind projects, sometimes inking power-purchase agreements, like Apple has, and sometimes buying a piece of a project as an investment.
Bottom line: That means more clean, green energy for everyone. 


Bionic Leaf Uses Bacteria To Convert Solar Energy Into Liquid Fuel

From Science 2.0:  Harvesting sunlight is old technology for plants but it's a level of efficiency in solar energy we would love to be within a billion years of - artificial photosynthesis is needed if we want to go beyond the energy density of things like combustion engines. 
Solar energy, using electricity from photovoltaic cells to yield hydrogen that can be later used in fuel cells, would be terrific but has technological obstacles.  Now scientists have created a system that uses bacteria to convert solar energy into a liquid fuel. Their work integrates an "artificial leaf," which uses a catalyst to make sunlight split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with a bacterium engineered to convert carbon dioxide plus hydrogen into the liquid fuel isopropanol. 
Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at HMS and an author of the paper, calls the system a bionic leaf, a nod to the artificial leaf invented by the paper's senior author, Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University.

An Israeli Company is building a 20-hour-per-day solar power plant

Israel's Brenmiller Energy said on Monday it will build a 300 million shekel ($77.27 million) solar power field using an energy storage technology that will generate electricity for about 20 hours a day.

The 10-megawatt field, to be built on about 110 acres (45 hectares) in the desert town of Dimona in southern Israel, will combine existing solar thermal technology with an underground system that stores heat for use at night.

Brenmiller Energy said it hopes to complete the field in early 2017, and will then sell electricity through the grid. During the four hours of the day that solar energy is insufficient, the company said it will use biomass to produce power.

The company already has a working proof-of-concept for the storage system.
A spokesman said Brenmiller Energy will fund the 10-megawatt project itself, in part to help promote the system to clients worldwide.

Apple is building a solar-powered data "command center" in Arizona

From Quartz:  Apple’s sapphire plant project in Arizona didn’t work out, so Apple is investing another $2 billion to convert the facility into a massive data center, the Wall Street Journal’s Daisuke Wakabayashi reports:
The company plans to employ 150 full-time Apple staff at the Mesa, Arizona, facility, which will serve as a command center for its global network of data centers. In addition to the investment for the data center, Apple plans to build a solar farm capable of producing 70-megawatts of energy to power the facility.
For context of what a 70-megawatt solar facility entails, one Arizona solar plant, Solana, says its output is 280 megawatts, supplying some 70,000 houses with clean energy. Apple boasts that it is “the only company in our industry whose data centers are powered by 100% renewable energy.”
The announcement comes after Apple’s sapphire partner, GT Advanced Technologies, filed for bankruptcy last year. The facility was to “produce 30 times as much sapphire as any other plant in the world,” Wakabayashi wrote last year. At the time, Apple was already consuming “one-fourth of the world’s supply of sapphire to cover the iPhone’s camera lens and fingerprint reader.”

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